After 16 years on Penticton Indian Band council, eight of them as chief, Jonathan Kruger said it’s only human nature to feel let down after losing the latest election.
“You put your heart and your soul, your blood, sweat and tears, and commitment and dedication towards bettering the community and then not getting voted in is a tough thing,” said Kruger this morning, after the band wrapped up their election for chief on Oct. 19.
There were three candidates vying for the next four-year term, with Chad Eneas coming out on top as the new chief. Eneas collected a total of 179 votes, with Kruger gathering 124. The third candidate, Joe Jack, had 27 votes.
“It is an honour and privilege to be newly elected Chief of the Penticton Indian Band as I humbly say that this election was not about me. It was about, and is about, what the community wanted,” said Eneas.
Last month, Robert Louie, chief of the Westbank First Nation since 2002, lost his re-election bid to Roxanne Lindley, daughter of the WFN’s first chief.
Chief Eneas assumes his duties immediately and will sit at the table for the next regularly scheduled chief and council meeting on Nov. 1.
The band’s election process moves on to council members now, with nominations for the new term for council, Oct. 26. Once the council elections are finished, the new leadership will convene to sign their commitment to the oath of office.
Kruger said he isn’t sure if he is going to allow his name to be put forward for councillor.
“We will see when that day comes, soon, next week,” said Kruger. “Right now I just want to sit back today and reflect.”
Regardless, Kruger said, he is leaving the chief’s position on a high note.
“At this point, the Penticton Indian Band is in the best position its ever been in,” said Kruger, who hopes the momentum that has built up will continue for economic and social development.
“Our council has worked very hard, our staff has worked hard, to get us to this point,” said Kruger. “We can’t afford any setbacks.”
Kruger sums up his time as chief with three words: honoured, proud and grateful.
“I was honoured to be the chief of the community for the last eight years. I took the chief position very seriously. I wanted to make positive, real change in the community … things that we can touch and feel and experience, not just talk about.”
Kruger is also honoured to work with an “amazing” group of people: fellow councillors, staff and community members.
“I am honoured and proud of them for what they have stepped up and done. It is because they love our families,” said Kruger.
Grateful includes the experiences Kruger had as chief, travelling to First Nations communities around the province and across the country, building relationships with the City of Penticton, the regional district and government ministries, like the Ministry of Highways, which was key to the deal to return Roddy Flats, a culturally important area for a traditional food source, Speetlum.
“We have to keep honouring those relationships and working together,” said Kruger, who is also grateful for the work done in enhancing relationships with other member bands in the Okanagan Nation Alliance.
Proud comes from the legacy of PIB council’s work over the past eight years.
“I am just really proud of all we accomplished, like an award-winning school, a brand new health building, these are real things that we needed. We still need a community hall,” said Kruger. “I am hoping that legacy continues to build.”
Over the past eight years, Kruger said the band has created over $50 million of reality: the fish hatchery, shelter, daycare health centre, the new Westhills Aggregates building, the Skaha Hills residential development and more.
“It’s a huge list. That’s a pretty great legacy. We talked about things and dreamed about things for years,” said Kruger. “I am just proud to be a hard worker, I’ve always been a hard worker. I am not a platform chief that just talks. I want to make sure we get things done.”
Looking back, Kruger said opening up the locatee lands next to the Okanagan River Channel stands out. Usually, the federal government isn’t interested in funding projects that have to do with locatee lands (owned privately by band members).
“They only fund general band lands. To help fund the bridge project — millions of dollars — was huge,” said Kruger. “That just goes to show that we worked really hard. That seemed like an impossible task.”
That job isn’t finished; Kruger said work is still being done on infrastructure funding applications, to be able to create more developments on the flats.
“I think I did a good job and I am really proud of everyone I worked with,” said Kruger. “I love my community, I love my nation. I have worked hard for the people and the families and I have no regrets. I can honestly say I am leaving on a high note, with a great legacy.”